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Flexible Work in the Caribbean: Bridging the Employee-Employer Divide

Work from home, go into the office or have a hybrid set-up? That is the million-dollar question. In March 2020, Caribbean governments implemented measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which resulted in a shift towards remote work. Despite flexible work arrangements being in place before, this change introduced a new way of working to individuals who may not have been familiar with it. Typically, such a change may have encountered resistance. However, due to the pandemic, there was no choice for those who could work from home. Everyone was encouraged to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

COVID-19 restrictions have now been removed but it has left a lasting impact on the world of work. One such change is the divergence between employees’ desire for remote work and employers’ push to bring employees back into the office. Wayne Chen, President of the Caribbean Employer’s Confederation, highlights this conflict, stating, “We have a psychological hang-up in Jamaica about control, so that change in mindset will have to take place before we can get the full benefits of any change in legislation and regulation to flexible working arrangements”. [1] This led me to think about how flexibility influences an employee’s level of job satisfaction and its potential implications for talent retention in the post-pandemic workplace. The reality is that the productivity of workers remains a priority for employers whilst work-life balance is increasing as a priority for employees.

With the increased competition for talent being global not only local, the challenges of retaining the best and brightest employees within the Caribbean, and the need to create positive work cultures, should companies rethink these return-to-work mandates? Can companies bridge the divide between flex appeal versus the office ordeal?

The Value of Flexibility for Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction has been defined as a “pleasurable or positive emotional state, resulting from the appraisal of one’s job experiences” [2].  According to Spector (1997) it reflects how well your work fulfils your expectations, desires and needs. It encompasses various aspects of a job, such as the nature of work, relationships with colleagues and supervisors, compensation, benefits, and opportunities for growth and advancement [3]. Research shows that employees with high job satisfaction tend to be more productive, committed to the organization, provide better customer service, and are less likely to seek employment elsewhere [4,5,6,7]. Has flexibility become one of those factors that can contribute to job satisfaction?

Herzberg’s two-factor theory, also known as the motivation-hygiene theory is one of the most influential theories in the field of work motivation and job satisfaction. It focuses on identifying the factors that motivate individuals in the workplace. The theory suggests that the presence of intrinsic factors (motivators) such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, and growth can lead to increased motivation and job satisfaction [8]. On the other hand, extrinsic factors (hygiene) such as salary, work conditions, and relationships with peers and supervisors do not necessarily contribute to motivation, but their absence can lead to job dissatisfaction. It raises the question, should flexibility be one of the factors addressed to prevent dissatisfaction and create a more positive work environment? I decided to explore some more.

The Experiment

To gather more insights on the factors contributing to job satisfaction, particularly the role of flexibility, I conducted an experiment with my Organizational Behaviour undergraduate students (10 GenZ – ages 18 – 27; 12 Gen Y – ages 28 to 43; and 1 Gen X -ages 44 to 59). This experiment was inspired by the findings of the Randstand Employer Brand Research 2023 Global Report, which identified salary and benefits, work-life balance, job security, work atmosphere, and financial health as the top five reasons employees choose an employer. Additionally, Statista ranked flexible work arrangements as one of the top five attributes for employees when choosing a job worldwide.

In the experiment, students were provided with a list of 19 factors that could influence job satisfaction. They were asked to individually select the five most important factors for their own job satisfaction. After making their selections, the students were divided into four groups and tasked with creating a consolidated list of the five most important factors based on their collective preferences.

Interestingly, the final lists from all four groups consistently included salary, flexibility, job security, and benefits as the most important factors, closely mirroring the findings of the Randstand report. This experiment highlights the growing importance of flexibility as a key consideration for job seekers, prompting the question: Is flexibility becoming a crucial value proposition for potential new hires, making it a more attractive option compared to the traditional office setup?

The Disconnect: Employer Perspectives

Recently, there has been a trend of employers calling back workers to the physical workplace, potentially conflicting with employee’s desire for flexibility. Wayne Chen, President of the Caribbean Employer’s Confederation, participated in a virtual panel session where he shared, “There are progressive companies that quickly embraced remote work, but for every story like that we have the story where the head of a department or a chief executive officer asks for all the workers to come back out as soon as the Government eases the COVID-19 restrictions.” He pointed out that, “the answer is that many managers have still not yet put in place a system where they can actually measure output.  We have really wasted, in many instances, a year because without the measurement, they are not confident it (work) is done.” [1]. Will the implementation of effective flexible work arrangement policies and stronger performance management systems be the key to putting employers’ minds at ease about flexible working arrangements?

The Jamaica Productivity Centre, conducted a survey with 81 firms on alternative work arrangements. It was found that 43% of respondents indicated that implementing work-from-home arrangements proved effective for business operations, 49% found it somewhat effective, while 6% felt it was somewhat ineffective and 2% very ineffective [9]. The Jamaica Employer Federation President, David Wan was noted as stating in an interview with the Financial Gleaner, shared “I’m not surprised by the data at all. It seems to be saying that the majority are not sure about the work-from-home arrangements and that there need to be improvements if they are going to consider the arrangement over the long term.” Do employers need additional support to truly embrace flexible work arrangements?

The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) Caribbean conducted a study on ‘The Business of Care: Boosting Productivity by Supporting Workers’ Care Obligations’. It was found that “the dominant workplace culture in Jamaica still focuses on hours worked rather than deliverables. A shift in such attitudes, from hours at work to deliverables would align well with a proposal for remote work and/or flexitime”. [10] Will implementing the right policies and garnering the right support be the impetus to start the mindset shift which will facilitate making serious headway in our transition to the ‘modern workplace’?

The Question We Face

Business owners and managers face their own unique challenges as they aim to improve productivity and the performance of their companies. It is well-known that productivity levels in the region are comparatively low. However, globalization, rapid technological advancements, and changing workforce demographics present new opportunities for growth and improvement. Flexible work arrangements may be a key strategy in capitalizing on these opportunities and addressing the evolving needs of the modern workforce.

Failing to address the demand for flexible work arrangements can have long-term consequences for the organization, such as:

  • Difficulty attracting and retaining top talent, as employees seek organizations that offer greater flexibility and work-life balance.
  • Reduced employee morale, engagement, and productivity due to unmet expectations and a lack of autonomy.
  • Missed opportunities for cost savings and increased agility associated with remote work, such as reduced office space requirements and the ability to hire from a broader talent pool.
  • Potential competitive disadvantage as more progressive organizations adopt flexible work policies and attract the best talent.

By shifting attitudes and embracing a more modern approach to work, can we create an environment that is beneficial to both the employer and the employee?

Building a Culture of Flexibility

How can we reconcile the differences between employees who want more flexibility and employers who worry about productivity and collaboration? We can begin by examining available resources and current policies, and having meaningful discussions on how to move forward, ensuring that we go beyond just talking and actually implement effective solutions. Some considerations for employers as they move forward include:

  • Conducting a thorough assessment of your organization’s current work policies, employee preferences, past experience with flexible work arrangements and business requirements to identify areas for improvement.
  • Using the data identified through your assessment to implement clear policies and guidelines for flexible work arrangements, outlining eligibility criteria, expectations and performance metrics.
  • Ensuring that a robust performance management system is implemented.
  • Training and providing resources that support managers and employees in adapting to new work arrangements, including remote management best practices, digital collaboration tools and leading hybrid teams.
  • Investing in technology and tools that facilitate seamless communication, collaboration, and productivity tracking for remote and in-office employees.
  • Building a culture of trust and accountability.

Some resources which can get you started include:

Conclusion

It is important to find the right balance between flexibility and organizational requirements as we adapt to the changing expectations of the modern workforce. As demonstrated by Herzberg’s theory, it would be prudent to ensure that hygiene factors such as flexibility are given attention as its absence can potentially contribute to job dissatisfaction, which may result in reduced productivity, higher turnover rates, and difficulty attracting talent.

In an increasingly competitive and rapidly evolving global economy, organizations that successfully navigate the challenge of flexibility by implementing clear policies, investing in the necessary tools and training, and fostering a culture of trust and autonomy will be better positioned to thrive in the future of work.

As we move forward, it is imperative for CEOs, HR practitioners, and business leaders to actively engage in the conversation surrounding flexible work and its impact on job satisfaction. By staying informed, exploring best practices, and being open to new ways of working, organizations can bridge the divide between the appeal of flexibility and the challenges of the office, ultimately creating a work environment that benefits both employees and employers alike.

References

  1. Henry, Okoye. 2021. “Employers Encouraged to Embrace Remote Work.” JIS, May 26, 2021. https://jis.gov.jm/employers-encouraged-to-embrace-remote-work/
  2. Locke, Edwin A. 1976. “The nature and causes of job satisfaction”. In Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology edited byMarvin D Dunnette, 1297 – 1343. Consulting Psychologists Press.
  3. Spector, Paul E. 1997. Job satisfaction: Application, assessment, causes, and consequences. Sage Publications, Inc.
  4. Judge, Timothy A., Carl J. Thoresen., Joyce E. Bono and Gregory K. Patton. 2001. The job satisfaction–job performance relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 127(3), 376-407.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.127.3.376
  5. Meyer, John P., David J. Stanley, Lynne Herscovitch and Laryssa Topolnytsky. 2002. Affective, continuance, and normative commitment to the organization: A meta-analysis of antecedents, correlates, and consequences. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 61(1), 20-52.
  6. Harter, James K., Frank L. Schmidt, Theodore L. Hayes. 2002. Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 268-279.
  7. Griffeth, Rodger W., Peter W. Hom, and Stefan Gaertner. 2000. A meta-analysis of antecedents and correlates of employee turnover: Update, moderator tests, and research implications for the next millennium. Journal of Management, 26(3), 463-488.
  8. Herzberg, Frederick., Bernard Mausner and Barbara Bloch Snyderman.1959. The motivation to work. John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Bennett, Karena. 2022. “Businesses find productivity levels ‘somewhat to very effective’ under WFH arrangements.” The Gleaner, March 2, 2022. https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20220302/businesses-find-productivity-levels-somewhat-very-effective-under-wfh
  10. Chisholm, Shana-Kay, Priya Alexander, Yentyl Williams, and Diana Thorburn. 2023. The Business of Care: Boosting Productivity by Supporting Workers’ Care Obligations. https://www.capricaribbean.org/sites/default/files/documents/thebusinessofcare.pdf

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